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Approaches to Public Goods: Solidarity and Social Justice

Approaches to Public Goods: Solidarity and Social Justice
15 Devonshire Place, Room 200, Larkin Building
Time: May 13th, 9:00 am End: May 14th, 5:00 pm
Interest Categories: Philosophy (UTSC), Philosophy (UTM), Philosophy (FAS), Law, Faculty of , Ethics, 2000-
Centre for Ethics Workshop

The Centre for Ethics at the University of Toronto presents an international workshop

Approaches to Public Goods: Solidarity and Social Justice

For over forty years, inequality and distributive justice have been two of the primary concerns of political philosophers. One of the most pressing, yet unacknowledged, problems in distributive justice is the need to account for the distribution of public goods. Standard distributive-justice approaches either neglect public goods or treat them as private goods. This may lead to a systematic bias against minorities, to the privatization of public spaces, and to illegitimate state coercion in the form of unjustified use of tax payers' money.

The workshop will address the following questions: Should we conceive of public goods as the aggregation of private preferences or is there a way to decide which goods to prioritize? Must a theory of public goods rest on perfectionism, e.g. the view that there is an objective standard for assessing what does or does not promote human flourishing? The workshop will also consider whether this way of framing the question is problematic insofar as it assumes that property is naturally private and therefore public property is something that requires justification.

A key theme of the workshop is the theory of solidarism. Solidarism is a strand of left-republicanism that emerged in France in the late 19th and early 20th centuries. It was intended as an alternative to two dominant ideologies: laissez-faire liberalism and socialism. Solidarism rests on the claim that the modern division of labor creates a social product that does not naturally belong to the individuals who control it as their private property. Property is "common wealth" which is divided into individual and public shares. According to the solidarists, when the wealthy appropriate a disproportionate share, they have a quasi-contractual debt to society that they are obliged to repay. The commonwealth is a concentration of value created by past generations that can be used to endow public goods or to remedy unfair allocations of goods on the market.
Solidarity can also be an important motivation for mitigating inequality. In solidaristic societies, shared common values such as a shared culture, language or heritage are expected to create conducive conditions for cross-subsidization. Yet this entails that solidarity is a precondition for a socially-optimal distribution of public goods. In fragmented or divided societies, where different sub-groups are not expected to willingly-cross subsidize each other, the distribution of public goods will likely be less than socially-optimal. This can also trigger injustice, as it creates a bias in favour of wealthy or powerful sub-groups, who can either dominate the political process and outvote minorities, or have enough resources of their own to maintain a stable provision of their desired public goods.

With the relationship between solidarity and social justice in mind, this workshop seeks to prompt an examination of the place of solidarity as a component of social justice; to examine whether it complements or competes with other principles in democratic societies (e.g. equality broadly defined, support for multiculturalism). The purpose of this workshop is to bring together philosophers, political scientists, and social theorists, who are writing about public goods and social justice. The workshop will facilitate the exchange of research between scholars from the Greater Toronto Area and prominent Canadian and international academics.

Registration is available here.

Questions and inquiries can be forwarded to avigail.ferdman@utoronto.ca.


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